Families living in South Africa’s shanty towns are being terrorised and left homeless by armed squads hired to ‘beautify’ South Africa before the World Cup.This means clearing away unsightly immigrant squatter camps.The Red Ants, a rented mob of thugs in bright red overalls and helmets, brandishing iron bars and pickaxes have become a growing force in the past few months as South African cities look to ‘clean up’ before the football tournament starts in June.
This month, Red Ants beat and evicted more than 100 Zimbabweans from a derelict building on the road to Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium, one of the competition’s main venues. It came after the provincial department of public transport ordered a string of evictions from buildings along main roads within a mile of the stadium, which will host five matches. The Red Ants also flattened more than 100 shacks within a two-mile radius of the Mbombela stadium.“I was among a few hundred Zimbabwean refugees taking shelter in the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg when the Red Ants came and sprayed us with brown sewage water,” Chenzera Ndbele, 14 told The Sunday Times. “When we moved to a local slum with my mother they came back with pickaxes. When they forced us out they made us watch as they burnt our belongings.”The Red Ants are doing the government’s dirty work, says Braam Hanekom, chairman of Passop, a refugee rights charity based in Cape Town, “They are essentially a militia that ruthlessly and forcefully displaces people from their shelters under government instructions,” he said. “They are notorious for their brutal and violent approach towards the poor.”
For the ruling African National Congress, the World Cup is a chance to showcase its achievements since it came to power 16 years ago.Attacks are rising on immigrants lured to South Africa by the hope of work created by the tournament. And after the World Cup things look set to get worse for immigrants as unemployment, already at 27%, is forecast to rise as thousands of building jobs go. Many immigrants claim they have been given warnings that they would be “dealt with” after the World Cup. “African foreigners living in South Africa must brace themselves for a new wave of xenophobic attacks after the World Cup is over,” said Lawrence Mushwana, chairman of the South African commission for human rights. Many Red Ants come from vigilante groups in Durban and Johannesburg which are already trying to push immigrants out of the country. They casually refer to migrant families as “parasites” and “cockroaches”.